The Writer’s Almanac for Tuesday, October 15, 2019


Citizen of Dark Times
by Kim Stafford

Agenda in a time of fear: Be not afraid.
When things go wrong, do right.
Set out by the half-light of the seeker.
For the well-lit problem begins to heal.

Learn tropism toward the difficult.
We have not arrived to explain, but to sing.
Young idealism ripens into an ethical life.
Prune back regret to let faith grow.

When you hit rock bottom, dig farther down.
Grief is the seed of singing, shame the seed of song.
Keep seeing what you are not saying.
Plunder your reticence.

Songbird guards a twig, its only weapon a song.

 

Kim Stafford, “Citizen of Dark Times” from Wild Honey, Tough Salt. Copyright © 2019 by Kim Stafford. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Red Hen Press, www.redhen.org. (buy now)


It’s the birthday of the English novelist and humorist P.G. Wodehouse (1881) (books by this author), who once wrote of a character, “She looked like a tomato struggling for self-expression.”

Wodehouse was born Pelham Grenville Wodehouse. His father was a magistrate in Hong Kong who could trace the family’s ancestry back to the 13th century. Wodehouse was known as “Plum” within his family and lived his first two years in Hong Kong.

Wodehouse was best known for creating the characters of wealthy but featherbrained Bertie Wooster of Blandings Castle and his supercilious valet, Jeeves. They appeared in more than 10 novels and 30 stories.

There wasn’t money for university when he graduated from Dulwich College, so he took a junior position at the London office of the Hongkong and Shanghai Bank, which he found confusing and tedious. He started writing what were known as “school articles” for Public School Magazine (1898), which was a journal for young boys. He wrote a comic piece called “Men Who Missed Their Own Weddings” for a magazine called Tit-Bits (1900), and it was so popular that he quit the bank and began writing full time and never stopped for the rest of his life.

After his first novel, The Pot-Hunters (1902), was published, he wrote eight more novels in the next seven years. He also wrote the lyrics for musicals, including Leave it to Jane (1917) and Oh, Boy! (1917) and, at one point, had five musicals running on Broadway at once. Wodehouse had sailed for America in 1904, calling it “a land of romance.” He earned $2,000 a week writing screenplays for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Most of them were never made, but it didn’t matter to him. Wodehouse’s stories and novels about Bertie Wooster and his unctuous valet, Jeeves, were incredibly popular, beginning with the first, Extricating Young Gussie (1915), and lasting until the 1970s.

Wodehouse wrote seven days a week from 4 to 7 p.m., but never after dinner. He began each novel by writing over 400 pages of notes, including an outline and plot. He said, “For a humorous novel, you’ve got to have a scenario, and you’ve got to test it so that you know where the comedy comes in, where the situations come in … splitting it up into scenes (you can make a scene of almost anything) and have as little stuff in between as possible.”


Today is the birthday of the poet Virgil (books by this author), born Publius Vergilius Maro near Mantua, Italy (70 BC). His father was a peasant farmworker who raised his own social status by marrying his boss’s daughter. Virgil was sent to Milan, Rome, and Naples for his education in philosophy and rhetoric. He planned to become a lawyer, but he was too shy to speak in public. He also found that he missed the rural Italian countryside, so he returned to the family farm and wrote poetry.

Virgil’s work so impressed the emperor Augustus that Virgil was given two villas to live in and a generous stipend to live on for the rest of his days. With the civil wars over, Rome had entered one of its first periods of stability and peace, and Virgil set out to write an epic poem about the country that could give all Romans national pride. He called his poem The Aeneid. It tells the story of Aeneas, one of the soldiers in the Trojan War, traveling home from Troy to found a new city that would become Rome.


It’s the birthday of Helen Hunt Jackson (books by this author), born in Amherst, Massachusetts (1830), where she went to school with Emily Dickinson. She had a steady career as a ladies’ author, but when she heard Chief Standing Bear of the Poncas give a speech about the destruction of his people, she became an activist overnight. She wrote a novel called Ramona (1884) about a mixed-race Spanish woman and her Native American lover, based on stories told to her by Mission Indians she had interviewed. It was a great success, but not in the way Jackson intended. People who read the book didn’t care much about the Indian characters; they were attracted to the rich Spaniards, and they eagerly attached Ramona’s name to the boulevards and opera houses in their new communities. California is still full of things named “Ramona.”

 

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

On the Road to Mandalay (click image)
That Time of Year softcover by Garrison Keillor!

That Time of Year coverThe "revised" softcover version of  Garrison Keillor's memoir, That Time of Year: A Minnesota Life will be available wherever you get your books on March 7, 2023.  It is available for pre-order in our shop now.

From the author:
I sat down and looked at my memoir THAT TIME OF YEAR when it came out and was put off by the sadness, the opening chapter about how much I missed doing “A Prairie Home Companion,” so I sat down to fix it. That’s why a writer shouldn’t read his own work. But I did and so I sat down to cheer it up a little and wrote a new first paragraph.

I am a Minnesotan, born, bred, well-fed, self-repressed, bombast averse, sprung from the middle of North America, raised along the Mississippi River, which we spelled in rhythm, M-i-ss-i-ss-i-pp-i, a sweet incantation along with the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23 and our school fight song about v-i-c-t-o-r-y. We sang it with a sense of irony, knowing we weren’t winners in the eyes of New York or L.A. or even our football rivals, but we were proud of our North Star State, the flatness, the fertile fields, the culture of kindness and modesty, our ferocious winters, when white people become even whiter, and to top it all off, we were the origin of the Mighty Miss. Wisconsin wasn’t, nor North the

Dakota. It was us and strings of barges came up to St.Paul to haul our corn and beans to a hungry world.

I wrote a new preface and a cheerier first chapter, which came (literally) from the heart I having undergone heart surgery at Mayo to replace a leaky mitral valve and I felt good. I did this for readers who missed the hardcover edition, to give them a lift, and also myself. The revision led to SERENITY AT 70, GAIETY AT 80 and a new book in progress, CHEERFULNESS. It’s a happy phenomenon, an author still ambitious at 80, and I give credit to my wife Jenny. If I were teaching Creative Writing today, I’d teach my students the importance of marrying the right person.

Garrison Keillor

From the Publisher:
With the warmth and humor we've come to know, the creator and host of A Prairie Home Companion shares his own remarkable story.

In That Time of Year, Garrison Keillor looks back on his life and recounts how a Brethren boy with writerly ambitions grew up in a small town on the Mississippi in the 1950s and, seeing three good friends die young, turned to comedy and radio. Through a series of unreasonable lucky breaks, he founded A Prairie Home Companion and put himself in line for a good life, including mistakes, regrets, and a few medical adventures. PHC lasted forty years, 750 shows, and enjoyed the freedom to do as it pleased for three or four million listeners every Saturday at 5 p.m. Central. He got to sing with Emmylou Harris and Renee Fleming and once sang two songs to the U.S. Supreme Court. He played a private eye and a cowboy, gave the news from his hometown, Lake Wobegon, and met Somali cabdrivers who’d learned English from listening to the show. He wrote bestselling novels, won a Grammy and a National Humanities Medal, and made a movie with Robert Altman with an alarming amount of improvisation.

He says, “I was unemployable and managed to invent work for myself that I loved all my life, and on top of that I married well. That’s the secret, work and love. And I chose the right ancestors, impoverished Scots and Yorkshire farmers, good workers. I’m heading for eighty, and I still get up to write before dawn every day.”

 

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The six-minute video speaks louder than words

When you look at the body camera video of Nashville cops, guns drawn, dashing into the school, throwing doors open, shouting, “Shots fired, shots fired, move!” and a line of cops moving swiftly down the hall and up the stairs and shooting the attacker, you see men doing as they were trained to do, pursue a killer and take the killer out. From first call to completion of mission: 14 minutes. An expert operation carried out by dedicated public servants. And when you watch members of Congress tiptoe away from their duty to deal with the danger those men faced, you see cowardice in a pure form.

Everyone should look at that six-minute video of men moving down the hall of the Covenant School. Body cameras were meant to guard against police brutality and instead they show pure professional courage — they don’t stop to confer, discuss options — lives are in danger, terrified children in lockdown, and they run forward toward gunfire shouting “Police!” and giving the shooter a chance to surrender. This is something most of us would be incapable of. As for the heartlessness of politicians who decline to say what needs to be said and then carry it out, the language lacks the contempt that’s needed.

What horrifies a person is the coolness with which this is accepted. The Nashville congressman who has sent out Christmas cards with a picture of his family around the tree holding weapons and who said that as a father he was “heartbroken” but that we shouldn’t rush to conclusions and there is a larger mental health issue involved that requires more study. Well, if someone should shoot a congressman I might be heartbroken but I also think there is a larger issue of the callousness of public officials whose heartbreak seems routine and who get to the “but we shouldn’t rush” much too quickly.

I am also waiting for the progressives on the Minneapolis City Council and Congresswoman Ilhan Omar to express full public remorse for their “defund the police” idiocy after the George Floyd killing by patrolman Chauvin in 2020 and the riots that terribly damaged the city. It still hasn’t recovered. If any of them look at the six-minute video of Nashville cops storming the school, running toward an active shooter, her gun going off, cops prepared to take a bullet to save terrified innocent people, I’d be very interested to hear their thoughts about defunding.

I’m an outsider. My dad didn’t hunt nor did any of my uncles. They grew up on a farm. A gun was kept to use against varmints who’d come after the chickens. Grandpa Keillor woke his kids up one winter night to go out and see a silver timber wolf howling at the moon. The wolf wasn’t bothering him and he didn’t shoot it.

After the shooting, I had dinner with a friend who said, “My granddads were both hunters, one a Republican, one a Democrat. They’d be horrified by what we’re seeing today. People walking in and buying an AR-15 as casually as you’d buy a sofa. This isn’t a hunting weapon, this is designed to kill people. Hunters aren’t the problem. Hunting is a sport. You want to make a clean shot in order to gather meat. This is a deadly weapon that’d destroy the meat. This is a problem of crazy people who on an impulse walk into a gun shop and walk out with an instrument of brute force. It’s got to stop.”

The press needs to tell the full story and it hasn’t yet. The woman who did the shooting apparently gave plenty of signals and there is some morning-after wisdom to be gathered from her friends and family. It’d be good to hear from the gun shop salesperson. This shooting didn’t happen in a vacuum. And gun collectors — does their fascination with deadly weaponry now strike them as ever so slightly BIZARRE? And the head of the school, Katherine Koonce, who gave her life for her kids: there is a genuine story here. The 2024 election is a non-story. There’s no there there.

The six minutes are real. Look at the video. And the mayor of Nashville, John Cooper, who said, “Let us praise our first responders. Fourteen minutes, fourteen minutes, I believe under fire, running to gunfire.” An elected official who says the exact right thing. Remarkable.

 

A plate of rigatoni with friends

The newspaper sets out to cover the full gamut of experience, from the Personals (Man, 45, seeks younger woman for mutual adventure and comfort) to the 50th anniversary party, George and Francine in their old tux and sparkly suit, and also the Letters of the Lovelorn (“He flirts with old friends of mine and our children’s teachers.”). If the rich and famous wind up in divorce court, the story can get very thick, and if one lover shoots another, the story becomes a novel. What the newspaper can’t cover very well is ordinary happiness because there is much too much of it and for us happy people, that is completely proper. You want to be able to eat your eggs and hash browns and sausage in the Chatterbox Café without a man with a pad and pencil interviewing you as to the cause of your good temper.

One cause is that you look back at your mistakes and know for a fact that you won’t do anything that dumb again.

The world is in constant crisis, the prospects for catastrophe are ever favorable, the cruelty of dictators and the confusions of democracy are well-known, but as one gets older and even older than that, the front page starts to fade and you cherish your moments of ignorance, such as when I sit with Buddy and Carl and the world devolves to just us.

A table of women is thirty feet away and they are shrieking and all talking at once and we men do not shriek. A shriek would indicate a need for CPR. We sit and gently rag on each other and inquire as to each other’s beloved grandchildren, not mentioning the son in rehab or the QAnon sister.

We reminisce about our impecunious youth and the crummy jobs that put us through college and we avoid politics because we’re all wishy-washy liberals so what’s to talk about?

I love these lunches. Wish there were one every day. But life went off in other directions and the old gang is scattered and some came to a sad end. Our classmate Ben was electrocuted fifty years ago while installing a water pump in his basement and Buddy mentions that Ben’s daughter called him to ask about her dad — she was five when he died and hardly remembers him — and Buddy lauded Ben’s good qualities, not mentioning that he died because his little daughter, wanting to help Daddy, had plugged in the power cord to the pump. Life is perilous. All the more reason to take pleasure in what’s left.

True friendship means not feeling obliged to impress each other and so we don’t. We do light sarcasm and gentle mutual deprecation, we’re old Midwestern guys, we see that we’re all in the same boat, the equality of old age prevails. Health is what matters, not money, not prestige.

Carl mentions that his miserable ex-brother-in-law died, a thief and a hustler, a bad father who ran off with another woman years ago and who, in his final illness, returned to the family he’d abandoned and they took him in. Carl says, “I’m tired of crazy people. I grew up with a bunch of them, drunks and sociopaths, narcissists, they were a blight on the lives of others. I hate craziness. If the SOB had come to my door, I would’ve shot him. Accidentally, but cleanly.”

Carl is a Democrat and Democrats aren’t allowed to say “I’m tired of crazy people” or talk approvingly of gun violence but we let him talk. The SOB was a blight on the lives of his children and at the age of 82 he threw himself on their mercy. A moment of silence. And then Buddy says, “So a guy went to his brother-in-law’s house to beg for help and the brother-in-law pulled a gun on him and the guy ran away and the brother-in-law chased him and he was getting closer so the guy reached back and grabbed some and threw it at him.”

I love this joke. “Grabbed what?” I say.

“Oh. It was there. A whole lot of it.”

Friendship is what it’s all about. What it’s always been about. As Mr. Trump awaits indictment on one or more of four different charges, I hope he has at least a couple of close personal friends. Not managers, lawyers, admirers. Friends. They know he’s guilty but they still love him and they’ll have lunch with him and he won’t rant and rave, just reminisce about his wretched father.

Music as a means of detecting a heart

At least once in your long and delicious life you owe it to yourself to go hear Olivier Messiaen’s “Turangalîla-symphonie” and don’t wait until you’re 80 as I did but finally last week went to hear the New York Philharmonic take us on this wild 90-minute roller-coaster ride in which Catholics are kidnapped and Baptists go Buddhist and you think in French and fly in a formation of geese and get a taste of molecular physics as horses go galloping down the aisles, and in the gorgeous slow passage “Garden of Sleeping Love” you will fall in love forever with the person next to you so be very careful where you sit. I sat next to my sweetheart and after years of thinking I was averse to modern music, here was a hymn to joy and time, movement, rhythm, life and death, with big Wagnerian chords, delicate intervals, a dozen percussionists, a genius pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, and we’ve been happily married ever since. It’s not often a person gets to experience euphoria. For years I imagined alcohol could do the job if I could just find the right brand but eventually I gave up on that. Sometimes in church I’ve felt it. When I was 11 I got to go to the top of the Empire State Building. I sang the Dead’s “Attics of My Life” once with two women and got a little high from it. And one night before the Philharmonic I experienced it at the Bowery Ballroom on Delancey Street listening to Aoife O’Donovan and Hawktail and the phenom fiddler Brittany Haas and it made the big crowd go wild to see artists overcome gravity and simply float. Aoife and Messiaen, two transcendent tours on successive nights: it makes living in Manhattan worth the trouble and expense. You can eat expensive mediocre food in loud restaurants, almost get run over by e-scooters, deal with surly salesclerks, cabs stuck in dense traffic, extortionate rents, impenetrable bureaucracy, but the museums and trains and tulips in spring and the occasional transcendental experiences make up for it. Two nights of mind-blown beauty make me want to start my career all over again. But the world has changed, of course. Taylor Swift, the middle-aged 14-year-old, has kicked off another tour, taking self-absorption deeper than ever before in human history, standing on a stage in front of 70,000 fans who each identify deeply with her, saying, “Tonight is so special and you have led me to believe, by your being here, that it is special for you too and it’s so nice that this is mutual. I don’t know how to process this and the way that it’s making me feel right now.” Who in the entire history of show business has ever talked like this? A woman adoring her fans for their adoration. The iconic emptiness of it is phenomenal. How does she maintain her powerful insecurities despite being a billionaire? The mind is boggled. Did Elvis tell the crowd he was so overwhelmed by their coming to see him that he was confused by it? No, he was Elvis. But you walk out the door and across the street, into the park, and bubblegum disappears, and you’re among real people watching their kids, walking their dogs, jogging, looking at birds, reading the paper, enjoying city life. The city relieves you of the burden of narcissism. People look out for each other in the crowd, make way for the elderly, for people with kids, pay attention to the musicians playing under the trees. And then you remember that night at the Philharmonic, the moment the symphony ended, the maestro relaxed, and the crowd jumped to their feet to whoop and applaud. Messiaen is dead. He didn’t create a cult, he created a masterpiece, and it lives on. It can’t be played by any orchestra in town, it’s too ferocious, but in the right hands it is a priceless gift to the audience. Same with Brittany Haas. I’ve heard hundreds of fiddlers in my day, all with their virtues, and they strove hard to find something and she simply has got it in her pocket. She stands on their shoulders. She can do it all and a ballroom full of people got their socks knocked off. Messiaen and Haas, you hear the music, you don’t envy them or admire them, the music simply goes through you like radio waves and proves that you’re alive.

The longer you live, the better it gets

I went down to the Bowery one night last week to see Aoife O’Donovan sing to a ballroom packed with young people standing for two hours and whooping and yelling — I sat up in the balcony and whooped and yelled too — and what the woman could do with her voice and guitar was astonishing, utterly fabulous, and for a man my age to be astonished is remarkable, she was competing with my memory of Uncle Jim handing me the reins to his horse-drawn hayrack and my grandma chopping the head off a chicken and seeing Buster Keaton perform at the Minnesota State Fair and also Paul Simon at Madison Square Garden and Renée Fleming in Der Rosenkavalier, but there she is, Aoife, in my pantheon of wonderment.

I came home from the Bowery to learn that a dear friend, Christine Jacobson, had died — amazement and mortality in one evening, and it’s a rare privilege to be aware of both, the beauty of life and the brevity. I look down from my balcony seat on the heads of young people excited by an artist and in their behalf I am worried about our country, with so many of our countrymen in favor of resuming the Civil War, with our history of trillions spent on wars in Vietnam and Iraq from which no benefit whatever was gained, but the exhilaration of the young is better than bourbon, more wonderful than wine.

Two young people called my wife recently and she put the phone on Speaker and I could hear the quiet joy in their voices that told the story, no explanation needed: she was pregnant, a child is on the way, she can feel it moving. Someday, I trust, my grandson will call me and I’ll hear that joy in his voice, and the Keillor line will extend into the 22nd century.

I am descended, in part, from William Cox, a British seaman aboard a man-o’-war docked in Charleston harbor in the early 19th century, who jumped ship, which was a capital offense, and made his way to Pennsylvania and settled among Quakers who were unlikely to turn a man in for desertion, and married Elizabeth Boggs who bore a daughter, Martha Ann, who married David Powell from whom my paternal grandmother, the one who beheaded the chicken, was descended. I sat by her bedside when she died in 1964, tended by her daughters. She and her twin sister had been railroad telegraphers, a rare thing for women in 1900 — they had learned Morse code as kids to give each other the answers to tests in school — and she became a schoolteacher and married my grandfather, who was on the school board.

Having a grandma who’d taught school was a big factor in my childhood: I wrote her letters and was very careful about spelling and grammar. I write this sentence now and I am aware of Grandma Dora. If I came home with a poor grade, my mother said, “Grandma would be disappointed,” and her possible disappointment weighed very heavily on me. I became a professional journalist at age 14, writing sports for a weekly newspaper, and my grandma read them and approved. And so a man finds his career.

I wrote a magazine piece about a radio show, which led me to start my own, which is how I came to know Aoife and I’d sung with her before, and now, sitting in the balcony, I was dazed with admiration. Admiration of her artistry and also of the openhearted enthusiasm of the crowd below. To me it’s all connected somehow, the desertion of Mr. Cox from the cruelty of life below decks, my good penmanship writing to Grandma, the old radio show, and the woman on stage bestowing enormous gifts on us all.

Mortality is what makes the gifts enormous. That afternoon I got a phone call from my old pal George, who is 87 and who announced that he’d been bounced out of hospice because he’d failed to die and was feeling very chipper about it. He recalled eulogies I’d given at funerals for our friends Arvonne and Martin and he seemed to be angling for me to eulogize him. I said, “George, if I do it for you then everyone’s going to want it for them. I used to think death was a tragedy and now it’s a trend.”

A necessary trend. There are people standing in the crowd who will need to sit down and we in the balcony need to make room for them.

A Prairie Home Companion An Evening of Story and Song Humor Love & Comedy Tour Old Friends Poetry Prairie Home Christmas Show Solo Songs Stories The Gratitude Tour
Schedule

March 31, 2023

Friday

7:30 p.m.

Avalon Theater, Grand Junction, CO

Grand Junction, CO

Garrison Keillor brings his solo show to Grand Junction, CO. Be prepared to laugh and sing along as you celebrate all that unites us.

April 27, 2023

Thursday

7:30 p.m.

Cary Memorial Hall, Lexington, MA

Lexington, MA

Garrison Keillor brings his solo show to Lexington, MA. Be prepared to laugh and sing along as you celebrate all that unites us.

April 29, 2023

Saturday

7:30 p.m.

Park Theatre, Jaffrey, NH

Jaffrey, NH

Garrison Keillor brings his solo show to Jaffrey, NH. Be prepared to laugh and sing along as you celebrate all that unites us.

April 30, 2023

Sunday

7:00 p.m.

Paramount Hudson Valley, Peekskill, NY

Peekskill, NY

Garrison Keillor brings his solo show to Peekskill NY. Be prepared to laugh and sing along as you celebrate all that unite us.

July 6, 2023

Thursday

8:00 p.m.

Sellersville Theatre, Sellersville, PA

Sellersville, PA

Garrison Keillor and Robin & Linda Williams come to Sellersville, PA for an evening of poetry, gospel, sing-alongs and the News from Lake Wobegon.

buy tickets

July 8, 2023

Saturday

8:00 p.m.

Lime Kiln Theater, Lexington, VA

Lexington, VA

Garrison Keillor and Robin & Linda Williams come to the Lime Kiln Theater in Lexington, VA for an evening of poetry, gospel, sing-alongs and the News from Lake Wobegon. 8:00 PM

buy tickets
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The Writer’s Almanac for Friday, March 31, 2023

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Writing

The six-minute video speaks louder than words

When you look at the body camera video of Nashville cops, guns drawn, dashing into the school, throwing doors open, shouting, “Shots fired, shots fired, move!” and a line of cops moving swiftly down the hall and up the stairs and shooting the attacker, you see men doing as they were trained to do, pursue a killer and take the killer out. From first call to completion of mission: 14 minutes. An expert operation carried out by dedicated public servants. And when you watch members of Congress tiptoe away from their duty to deal with the danger those men faced, you see cowardice in a pure form.

Everyone should look at that six-minute video of men moving down the hall of the Covenant School. Body cameras were meant to guard against police brutality and instead they show pure professional courage — they don’t stop to confer, discuss options — lives are in danger, terrified children in lockdown, and they run forward toward gunfire shouting “Police!” and giving the shooter a chance to surrender. This is something most of us would be incapable of. As for the heartlessness of politicians who decline to say what needs to be said and then carry it out, the language lacks the contempt that’s needed.

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A plate of rigatoni with friends

The newspaper sets out to cover the full gamut of experience, from the Personals (Man, 45, seeks younger woman for mutual adventure and comfort) to the 50th anniversary party, George and Francine in their old tux and sparkly suit, and also the Letters of the Lovelorn (“He flirts with old friends of mine and our children’s teachers.”). If the rich and famous wind up in divorce court, the story can get very thick, and if one lover shoots another, the story becomes a novel. What the newspaper can’t cover very well is ordinary happiness because there is much too much of it and for us happy people, that is completely proper. You want to be able to eat your eggs and hash browns and sausage in the Chatterbox Café without a man with a pad and pencil interviewing you as to the cause of your good temper.

One cause is that you look back at your mistakes and know for a fact that you won’t do anything that dumb again.

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Music as a means of detecting a heart

At least once in your long and delicious life you owe it to yourself to go hear Olivier Messiaen’s “Turangalîla-symphonie” and don’t wait until you’re 80 as I did but finally last week went to hear the New York Philharmonic take us on this wild 90-minute roller-coaster ride in which Catholics are kidnapped and Baptists go Buddhist and you think in French and fly in a formation of geese and get a taste of molecular physics as horses go galloping down the aisles, and in the gorgeous slow passage “Garden of Sleeping Love” you will fall in love forever with the person next to you so be very careful where you sit.

I sat next to my sweetheart and after years of thinking I was averse to modern music, here was a hymn to joy and time, movement, rhythm, life and death, with big Wagnerian chords, delicate intervals, a dozen percussionists, a genius pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet, and we’ve been happily married ever since.

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The longer you live, the better it gets

I went down to the Bowery one night last week to see Aoife O’Donovan sing to a ballroom packed with young people standing for two hours and whooping and yelling — I sat up in the balcony and whooped and yelled too — and what the woman could do with her voice and guitar was astonishing, utterly fabulous, and for a man my age to be astonished is remarkable, she was competing with my memory of Uncle Jim handing me the reins to his horse-drawn hayrack and my grandma chopping the head off a chicken and seeing Buster Keaton perform at the Minnesota State Fair and also Paul Simon at Madison Square Garden and Renée Fleming in Der Rosenkavalier, but there she is, Aoife, in my pantheon of wonderment.

I came home from the Bowery to learn that a dear friend, Christine Jacobson, had died — amazement and mortality in one evening, and it’s a rare privilege to be aware of both, the beauty of life and the brevity. I look down from my balcony seat on the heads of young people excited by an artist and in their behalf I am worried about our country, with so many of our countrymen in favor of resuming the Civil War, with our history of trillions spent on wars in Vietnam and Iraq from which no benefit whatever was gained, but the exhilaration of the young is better than bourbon, more wonderful than wine.

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Marriage is a game and two can play it

BANK STOCKS SKID was the scary headline days ago sending shivers of 1929 and old newsreels of breadlines on Wall Street and Dorothea Lange photographs of migrant women and naturally the thought of a Crash makes me think we need to go out for entertainment, of which New York has plenty.

Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks are playing at Birdland, a 12-piece band reliving Twenties stomps and blues with Vince’s bass sax honking at the head of the formation. The New York Phil is playing Messiaen’s Turangalîla symphony. There’s an Emo Ball with DJs playing disco hits and an All-Night Singles Party at which ladies drink for free. (How do they make sure you’re single? Or a lady?)

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Thanks to Lutherans I skipped ballet

I talked to a friend last week whose Lutheran church in Minneapolis is trying to attract people of color. Lutherans have been white for centuries, coming as they did from Scandinavia and Germany, countries that were never great colonial powers and didn’t grab big chunks of Africa and Lutheranize the indigenous people. Some Lutherans are more gray than white, but if you go to a Lutheran church you sense a monochromaticism due to the fact that people in the pews tend to be descendants of Lutherans, the faith was handed down, it’s like farming — most farmers grew up on a farm — not many Manhattanites develop a passion for soybeans and head for North Dakota to buy 400 acres and a John Deere.

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The worst play I ever saw: a landmark

In case you’re wondering why I was not in church Sunday morning, I was in the Omaha airport at 6:30 a.m. waiting for a flight back to New York, listening to an announcement that unattended baggage would be confiscated, eating a breakfast croissant and blueberry yogurt, drinking coffee, which came to $19.74, which happens to be the year I started doing my old radio show.

I grew up Sanctified Brethren, so it was odd to wind up in comedy, but my mother loved Jack Benny and Lucille Ball, so there’s the hitch. I started the show to amuse her, and I succeeded. And the one Saturday night in Omaha did too. A tall woman and I sang love duets while a piano player with wild hair kept the beat and I did octogenarian stand-up and the audience accepted this pretty well.

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Bill Hinkley and Judy Larson – The Family Car

Bill Hinkley and Judy Larson – The Family Car

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The old man’s winter weekend

In case you’re wondering why I was not in church Sunday morning, I was in the Omaha airport at 6:30 a.m. waiting for a flight back to New York, listening to an announcement that unattended baggage would be confiscated, eating a breakfast croissant and blueberry yogurt, drinking coffee, which came to $19.74, which happens to be the year I started doing my old radio show.

I grew up Sanctified Brethren, so it was odd to wind up in comedy, but my mother loved Jack Benny and Lucille Ball, so there’s the hitch. I started the show to amuse her, and I succeeded. And the one Saturday night in Omaha did too. A tall woman and I sang love duets while a piano player with wild hair kept the beat and I did octogenarian stand-up and the audience accepted this pretty well.

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Thinking about that woman in Kentucky

I was down in Frankfort, Kentucky, last week and sat in a café one morning and a fortyish woman in a white uniform approached and said, “What can I get you, Hon?” and I, being a Northerner, was rather touched because female food service workers up North don’t go around Honning male customers. I’ve been Deared a few times but only by women older than I and they may have Deared me from dementia. Once a waitperson in Minneapolis Friended me and I almost spilled my coffee.

(Notice that I don’t refer to them as a “waitress.” The “-ess” is a diminutive, it’s a patronizing relic of male dominance; she is a Waitperson, even though that term could be mistaken as “Weight Person,” meaning “fat lady.” Anyway, female service personnel in Minnesota do not address a man as “hon” or any other term of affection and if he addressed her as Hon, he could be arrested, handcuffed, and taken downtown.

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Whether solo or accompanied by Richard Dworsky, Heather Masse, Prudence Johnson, Dan Chouinard, Dean Magraw, or others, Garrison Keillor delivers an extraordinary, crowd-pleasing performance.

Garrison Keillor’s celebrated radio broadcast A Prairie Home Companion ran for forty years. He wrote the comedy sketches and more, and he invented a “little town that time forgot and the decades could not improve.” These days, his shows are packed with humor and song, plus the audience-favorite News from Lake Wobegon. He has written dozens of books — recently, Boom Town (a Lake Wobegon novel), That Time of Year (a memoir), a book of limericks, and Serenity at 70, Gaiety at 80 (reflections on why you should keep on getting older). Garrison and his wife, Jenny Lind Nilsson, live in New York City.

Trained as a jazz singer at the New England Conservatory of Music, Heather Masse is equally versed in a variety of traditions — folk, pop, bluegrass, and more. As member of Billboard-charting group The Wailin’ Jennys, she has performed at hundreds of venues across the world. She was a frequent guest on A Prairie Home Companion, both solo and with The Jennys. One reviewer rightly lauded her “lush velvety vocals, capable of melting butter in a Siberian winter.”

 Prudence Johnson‘s long and happy career as a singer, writer, and teacher has landed her on the musical theater stage, in two feature films (A River Runs Through It and A Prairie Home Companion), on a national radio show (several stints on A Prairie Home Companion) and on concert stages across North America and occasionally Europe. She has released more than a dozen recordings, including albums dedicated to the music of Hoagy Carmichael and Greg Brown, and a collection of international lullabies.

 For 23 years, Richard Dworsky served as A Prairie Home Companion’s pianist and music director, providing original theatrical underscoring, leading the house band, and performing as a featured soloist. The St. Paul, Minnesota, native also accompanied many of the show’s guests, including James Taylor, Bonnie Raitt, Yo-Yo Ma, Sheryl Crow, Chet Atkins, Renée Fleming, and Kristin Chenoweth.

 Dan Chouinard is a St. Paul-based honky-tonk pianist, concert soloist and accompanist, street accordionist, sing-along enabler, Italian and French teacher, and bicycling vagabond. He’s been writer and host of a number of live history-with-music shows broadcast on Minnesota Public Radio and Twin Cities Public Television. He played on a dozen live broadcasts of A Prairie Home Companions plus a half dozen APHC cruises, and served as rehearsal pianist for Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, and Lindsay Lohan on the 2005 APHC movie. He’s featured on a number of recordings with Prairie Home regulars Peter Ostroushko, Prudence Johnson and Maria Jette.

 Composer/arranger/producer/guitarist Dean Magraw performed and recorded extensively with Ukrainian American virtuoso Peter Ostroushko over several decades, and he has worked with some of the finest musicians in the North America, Europe, and Japan. As one of his collaborators commented, “Dean Magraw’s guitar playing transcends, transports, and lifts the soul to a higher level as he weaves, cajoles, and entices every note from his instrument.”

Recent reviews:

“Fans laughed, applauded and sang along throughout Sunday night’s two-hour show” -Jeff Baenen, AP News

“His shows can, for a couple of hours, transform an audience of even so-called coastal elites into a small-town community with an intimacy only radio and its podcast descendants can achieve” -Chris Barton, LA Times

“[Keillor is] an expert at making you feel at home with his low-key, familiar style. Comfortable is his specialty.” -Betsie Freeman, Omaha-World Herald

 

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